THE CALIPH HISHAM AND THE ARAB YOUTH.
The Caliph Hishám bin Abd al-Malik bin Marwan, was hunting one day, when he sighted an antelope and pursued it with his dogs. As he was following the quarry, he saw an Arab youth pasturing sheep and said to him, "Ho boy, up and after yonder antelope, for it escapeth me!" The youth raised his head to him and replied, "O ignorant of what to the deserving is due, thou lookest on me with disdain and speakest to me with contempt; thy speaking is that of a tyrant true and thy doing what an ass would do." Quoth Hisham, "Woe to thee, dost thou not know me?" Rejoined the youth, "Verily thine unmannerliness hath made thee known to me, in that thou spakest to me, without beginning by the salutation." [FN#144] Repeated the Caliph, "Fie upon thee! I am Hisham bin Abd al-Malik." "May Allah not favour thy dwelling-place," replied the Arab, "nor guard thine abiding place! How many are thy words and how few thy generous deeds!" Hardly had he ended speaking, when up came the troop from all sides and surrounded him as the white encircleth the black of the eye, all and each saying, "Peace be with thee, O Commander of the Faithful!" Quoth Hisham, "Cut short this talk and seize me yonder boy." So they laid hands on him; and when he saw the multitude of Chamberlains and Wazirs and Lords of State, he was in nowise concerned and questioned not of them, but let his chin drop on his breast and looked where his feet fell, till they brought him to the Caliph [FN#145] when he stood before him, with head bowed groundwards and saluted him not and spoke him not. So one of the eunuchs said to him, "O dog of the Arabs, what hindereth thy saluting the Commander of the Faithful?" The youth turned to him angrily and replied, "O packsaddle of an ass, it was the length of the way that hindered me from this and the steepness of the steps and the profuseness of my sweat." Then said Hisham (and indeed he was exceeding wroth), "O boy, verily thy days are come to their latest hour; thy hope is gone from thee and thy life is past out of thee." He answered, "By Allah, O Hisham, verily an my life-term be prolonged and Fate ordain not its cutting short, thy words irk me not, be they long or short." Then said the Chief Chamberlain to him, "Doth it befit thy degree, O vilest of the Arabs, to bandy words with the Commander of the Faithful?" He answered promptly, "Mayest thou meet with adversity and may woe and wailing never leave thee! Hast thou not heard the saying of Almighty Allah?, 'One day, every soul shall come to defend itself.'" [FN#146] Hereupon Hisham rose, in great wrath, and said, "O headsman, bring me the head of this lad; for indeed he exceedeth in talk, such as passeth conception." So the sworder took him and, making him kneel on the carpet of blood, drew his sword above him and said to the Caliph, "O Commander of the Faithful, this thy slave is misguided and is on the way to his grave; shall I smite off his head and be quit of his blood?" "Yes," replied Hisham. He repeated his question and the Caliph again answered in the affirmative. Then he asked leave a third time; and the youth, knowing that, if the Caliph assented yet once more, it would be the signal of his death, laughed till his wisdom-teeth showed; whereupon Hisham's wrath redoubled and he said to him, "O boy, meseems thou art mad; seest thou not that thou art about to depart the world? Why then dost thou laugh in mockery of thyself?" He replied, "O Commander of the Faithful, if a larger life-term befell me, none can hurt me, great or small; but I have bethought me of some couplets, which do thou hear, for my death cannot escape thee." Quoth Hisham, "Say on and be brief;" so the Arab repeated these couplets,
"It happed one day a hawk pounced on a bird, * A wildling sparrow driven by destiny;
And held in pounces spake the sparrow thus, * E'en as the hawk rose ready home to hie:--
'Scant flesh have I to fill the maw of thee * And for thy lordly food poor morsel I.
Then smiled the hawk in flattered vanity * And pride, so set the sparrow free to fly.
At this Hisham smiled and said, "By the truth of my kinship to the Apostle of Allah (whom Allah bless and keep!), had he spoken this speech at first and asked for aught except the Caliphase, verily I would have given it to him. Stuff his mouth with jewels, [FN#147] O eunuch and entreat him courteously;" so they did as he bade them and the Arab went his way. And amongst pleasant tales is that of